Three species of Indian vulture have in the last twenty years experienced the most rapid declines ever observed in any animal species. All three (White-backed, Slender-billed and long-billed vultures) are now on the Indian Schedule I and IUCN Critically Endangered, the highest endangered categories.

 

These species of vultures were twenty years ago measured in the tens of millions, now their numbers are down to a few thousand for each species. If you look to the skies around most of India today they are empty.

 

The cause was proved to be Diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug used as a pain-killer to treat sick cattle and livestock. If vultures feed on livestock carcasses that contain residues of the Diclofenac they will die within 13 days from kidney failure and visceral gout.

 

Diclofenac was banned for veterinary use in 2006 however it is still manufactured and administered to humans, and as this is not able to be banned there still exists a route through the black market for Diclofenac to be used on cattle.

 

The continuing after-effects of such a catastrophe are far reaching. Vultures have for years provided a free, essential and un-thanked task in efficiently cleaning up the millions of cattle carcasses in India. A subsequent problem of the vulture decline has been the increase in other scavengers, notably stray dogs and rats, and the decline in vultures facilitates the increase and spread of the deadly disease such as rabies and anthrax.

 

As well as for hygiene reasons vultures have a strong cultural and aesthetic value, these enormous soaring birds being beautiful to watch in their graceful flights, and also feature importantly in many religious and mythological stories.

 

Our actions to try investigate the continuing threats to our local vulture populations. Regular population monitoring surveys of colonies in the vicinity of CTR, were carried out in the monsoon of 2009, identifying some important nesting and feeding sites.

 

 

We also carried out an undercover investigation of the availability of the continued use of Diclofenac for veterinary use. The result of this survey was conclusive and alarming. In nearly 50% of veterinary medicine outlets our researcher was recommended and sold human-use Diclofenac for use on cattle.

 

Acting fast on this information we have co-ordinated with concerned members from all parts of the veterinary and farming communities to formulate the following actions to attempt to stamp out this potential of extinction of vultures in this area.

     
 
Awareness raising of the danger to vultures for villagers and livestock holders.
 
Meloxicam awareness campaign and promotion amongst the veterinary community.
 
Reduce the market viability of human Diclofenac.
 
Increasing the deterrence to veterinary retailers.